You Want to Say Yes, But Here’s Why You Should Say No
Development is just one of many customer-facing industries, and all of the projects we work on eventually require client approval.
Jun 2019 - 4 minutes read
Over the years that we’ve been in this business, we’ve had lots of clients and staff come and go. One thing we’ve learned is that there are going to be times where you want to say “yes”, but in reality, “no” is the right answer. It takes a lot of guts to walk away from lucrative clients, or talented staff members who are just not a great match for your company. Here are some of the ways that we’ve learned to say no over the years.
Choose Clients Carefully
As a development company, picking a specialty, hiring staff, opening an office, and advertising for your business are all integral. However, the most important step comes after all that is complete. Choosing the right clients will determine whether you have a business that survives, or a business that grows and thrives.
Many people, especially when they’re first starting out, are happy to take any client that walks through their door. As long as they receive payment, they’re happy to keep working for them. This approach may work for a while, but if you’re continually working for stressful, problematic clients, it will quickly lead to burnout. Whether you’re working on your own, or managing a team of developers, the ability to choose the right clients is just as important as your technical development skills.
We know the importance of this issue because it’s happened to us. A few years ago, we had a few great meetings with a client that we thought was going to be a perfect fit for our company. The paperwork was drawn up and signed, and we got to work preparing a few design mock ups. We sent out the designs, but were not prepared for the stream of negativity that came back. Not only was the client combative, they were unable to take ownership for their ideas from the initial meeting. They lashed out at the designer, and berated them for their supposed lack of skill. We didn’t get any indication of this attitude during our initial conversations.
We eventually made the hard decision to pass on the client and their lucrative contract. For us, the money just wasn’t worth the stress that they would have caused our entire team.
How to Say No to Clients (When You Want to Say Yes)
Making the decision to walk away from that client was difficult, and it wasn’t the last time that we’ve had to make tough calls, and say no when we really wanted to say yes. Here are some lessons that we’ve learned since then.
Ensure there are always clear channels of communication
Having clear channels of communication is the best way to ensure that both staff and clients are able to express themselves in a constructive way. It keeps information moving, and ensures that any conflicts can be dealt with quickly. If either staff or clients feel that they’re unable to express themselves, it can lead to confusion and frustration.
Make a decision quickly
One of the best leadership qualities that you can develop is the ability to make decisions quickly. If you know that you will not be able to work with a client, or have a staff member who is causing problems and needs to be let go, the decision won’t get any easier the longer you wait. The best thing you can do is make the decision quickly, and communicate it firmly. Make it clear that it isn’t a negotiation or a debate.
Have a system for referrals
Even if you regularly take on most of the work that’s offered to you, it might be easier to turn down potential clients if you have a system for referrals. If it isn’t the right fit, you can soften the blow by offering them the contact information of another company, and suggest they get in touch with them.
Listen to staff
There are many times where early warning signs are visible to staff, but not management. Staff who are working closely with their peers, as well as clients, may have more insight into a growing crisis than managers or company leadership. If you’re a manager, get in the habit of checking in with your staff, or offering an open-door policy to anyone who wants to talk. You should always trust your own judgement, but it’s hard to make a decision if you don’t have all the facts.
Make honesty a priority
Being honest with clients (and staff) should start from your first interaction. The only way to ensure that you’re working with people who are able to have healthy debates, and take constructive criticism is by making this clear from day one. Clients who are used to being flattered and treated delicately tend not to react well if the communication style suddenly changes. The same goes for staff. If problematic behavior is given a free pass because you can’t engage staff in honest conversations, you signal that you’re willing to allow yourself and other staff members to be mistreated.
Arrange Your Finances So “Yes” Isn’t Automatic
So many companies feel that they don’t have the ability to turn down problematic clients because they need the money. There’s nothing to be ashamed of there. However, if you want to move away from taking every client who walks through your door, you’ll need to plan for it. It won’t happen automatically.
The Benefits of No
As soon as you’re able to focus on clients who are a good match for your company, you’ll start seeing the change in your office. Great clients who are able to take feedback and offer honesty in return will make your office run so much smoother.